2010 Conference Highlights
Pakistan, Afghanistan, and US Policy in the Region
Only a negotiated settlement can end the Afghanistan war.
Ahmed Rashid began his keynote address by pointing out that approximately a year ago, the US realized the war in Afghanistan could not be won militarily. It had to adopt a strategy that could enable it to leave short of victory. Therefore, it needed to initiate a dialogue with the Taliban to find a political compromise, but to do so successfully, it had to reverse the Taliban’s military momentum; hence, the Obama-announced surges in March and December. Meanwhile, the US must carry on the fight, as well as future negotiations, with a weak, unpopular President Karzai at its side—a leader further discredited by the rigged elections of last August. Additionally, Afghanistan has had no real national economy in the nine years since the overthrow of the Taliban. The good news is that recent polls show that, despite the lack of support for Karzai, only six percent of the Afghan population actively favors a Taliban government. The bad news is that so long as the Taliban retains its sanctuary in Pakistan, it is safe. Any hope for a negotiated settlement must involve an end to the Pakistan safe haven. Obama’s current strategy, the counterinsurgency doctrine initiated by General Stanley McChrystal, represents a dramatic change: investing in agriculture, rebuilding the infrastructure, pursuing the sanctuary issue, and dealing with the awareness that Pakistan’s conflict with India needs to move toward resolution. It’s an uphill battle. In recent years, the Taliban has developed enormously as a military force, implementing various tactics, such as the use of land mines and suicide bombers, learned from al Qaeda in Iraq. But even though they have developed a relatively sophisticated public relations and media approach—“an ability to get their message out”—they have not grown politically; they have no real social or economic agenda. And the Afghan population realizes this. With the new US military surge, and the implementation of the new counterinsurgency methods, “the Taliban strength is at its zenith.” While they can continue to launch attacks, they can’t take over major cities. Afghans believe that economic development is possible with western support, but not through the Taliban. But because of Obama’s fixed timeline for withdrawal, “a tactical error,” everyone in the region believes the US will be on its way out after June of 2011. So why would the Taliban be willing to talk? Some hardliners, of course, would not be. But Western firepower grows. “The Taliban are tired.” They are also fed up with being controlled and micromanaged by the Pakistani intelligence services. Because the Taliban movement is a nationalist, Pashtun-based struggle, talking with the Afghan government is a viable option for them. Already, there are some signs of some moderation within the Taliban, at least from statements that hint at a willingness to break with al Qaeda, and an emphasis on their Afghan nationalist credentials as opposed to any interest in interfering in other countries’ affairs. They have even suggested they would not be against women’s education. Pakistan, meanwhile, has made it clear that any dialogue between the Taliban and the Karzai government must involve Pakistan. Pakistan’s recent arrest of the number-two Afghan Taliban leader was a direct outcome of his negotiating with Karzai without including Pakistan. Pakistan has two major internal issues. The first is that, 60 years after the partition that created Pakistan, there is still no consensus on its national identity. Is Pakistan a purely Islamic state; or is it instead a democratic, national state for all its citizens? Secondly, a large gulf remains between what the army considers the country’s national security requirements and what civilian governments believe. The army gets a huge percentage of the national budget to fortify itself against the perceived threat from India. Indeed, it’s this perception that keeps the army in power, even while Pakistan is under nominal civilian rule. This gulf in defining national security is widening, resulting in an ongoing political stalemate: the army currently has the backing of the judiciary against Zardari’s government, but it doesn’t have a political party it can use to topple the government. The severe economic recession only makes matters worse. And there is a new and growing separatist insurgency in Baluchistan. The Pakistani Taliban itself, with its vision of an Islamic state, has grown sufficiently strong that the army, supported by the public, has finally moved to crack down on it. By contrast, the Afghan Taliban is still useful to the Pakistani army in terms of its overall conflict with India, because Karzai, as seen from Islamabad, is much too close to India. Meanwhile, the US has its own serious problems. Are we ready to encourage and support Karzai in negotiations with the senior leadership of the Taliban—not just the middle level and foot soldiers? In this regard, Rashid noted that “Karzai is ahead of the US.” In answer to a subsequent question, he emphasized that the war “can only end with a negotiated settlement.” But if we do pursue this route with the Afghans, how do we persuade the Pakistani military to get on board? In any case, a precipitate withdrawal by the US without a power-sharing arrangement would likely lead to a civil war. So how has Obama dealt with these complex, interlocking, and often contradictory difficulties during his first year in office? He has, as yet, been unable to cobble together a regional strategy that ties Iran into a solution. If Iran is not involved, it could act as a spoiler for any compromise in Afghanistan. India/Pakistan relations are worse. Pakistan will have to feel comfortable that, whatever the final compromise in Afghanistan, the Indians do not end up with more influence there. The Taliban are stronger than ever—and of course this is the clear reason for the US military surge. The economic benefits that a counterinsurgency strategy could bring depend foremost on a successful outcome of the “clear and hold” part of the new approach. Karzai, meanwhile, remains locked in the old tribal system, in which good governance is not a top priority. In summing up, Rashid noted that one thing Afghanistan has demonstrated over the 30 years since the Soviet invasion has been an enormous “absorptive capacity.” For example, a number of both Islamists and communists serve in the current Parliament. So absorbing the Taliban into the mix should not be impossible. During this same period, however difficult the situation—first fighting the Soviets and then fighting one another—no one has been able to or has wanted to split the country apart. Going into the tricky and difficult times ahead, both of these factors are important strengths. During the question-and-answer period, Rashid pointed out that while the Taliban at the lower levels is highly decentralized, at the very top, under Mullah Omar, “it is a coherent group that can be talked to.” In response to another question, he suggested that initially, the use of Predator drones in Pakistan had been unhelpful. But now, the US and Pakistan intelligence services are cooperating more fully, and as a result, the drones are now more effective. A questioner seeking additional understanding of the relationship between the US and Pakistan and the sanctuary issue was told that the Pakistani army strongly resents the special relationship the US has developed in recent years with India. India has had long-standing cultural ties with Afghanistan, long predating 9/11. The Pakistanis accuse the Indians of arming the Baluch insurgency, which, Rashid added, “is probably true.” On the other hand, Afghanistan is not a necessary conduit for such arms; they could be provided through the Gulf. Settlement of the Kashmir problem would be “the major key” to reassuring the Pakistani army about India’s intentions. Unfortunately, although a Kashmir resolution is Pakistan’s “top priority,” India has “no interest in pursuing it.” Answering a question about the stability of the current government in Islamabad, Rashid pointed out that the Pakistan Peoples Party, the party in power, is “the only nationalist party with support all over the country.” By contrast, Zardari’s principle opponent, Sharif, only has real support in the Punjab. Rashid added that regardless of who is in power in Pakistan, the military are fully in control of the nuclear arsenal. In answering a question about Obama and the region, Rashid said that a key problem with Obama’s foreign policy, from the point of view of the Muslim world, is the “lack of follow-through.” For example, the Cairo speech last spring was very well received, but nothing developed from it. In response to the last question, concerning the possibility of a radical Islamist takeover in Pakistan, Rashid reaffirmed that the Pakistani army has finally started to move against the Taliban there. They must now take on the rest of the extremist Islamist groups in Pakistan. The army is hoping for some kind of dialogue and ultimate breakthrough with India. But the problem is that “the terrorists control this relationship,” and “they want to derail the process; they want conflict.” Another Mumbai-type attack is a very real possibility. And while there is no immediate threat of a split within the Pakistan military, the danger of future fissions is very real. Rashid concluded by stressing that, in terms of dealing with al Qaeda and other extremists and preventing further descent into possible chaos, this year “is very critical.”
~ Ahmed Rashid, of Lahore, Pakistan, is a journalist, scholar, and best-selling author of several books on Central Asia. He is a correspondent to the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph; and he writes for the Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and academic journals. He appears regularly on international TV and radio networks.
Is There an Afghanistan?
Does Afghanistan have the political DNA of an enduring nation-state?
G. Whitney Azoy
“Is there really an Afghanistan?” Anthropologist Whitney Azoy quickly answered the question he raised in his title. “My fear is that 21st-century Afghanistan—no matter who controls it, or more aptly, claims to control it—lacks the DNA of sustainable nation-statehood.” Azoy explained this conclusion in part by asking, “Who is an Afghan?” He said that for most of us, the term means all inhabitants of what has come to be called Afghanistan. But the Uzbek farmers above the Kunduz River and the Hazaras of Yakawlang do not consider themselves Afghans. To them, Azoy says, “Afghan means Pashtun.” Acknowledging that there are those who believe that Afghanistan can survive, Azoy took this position: “The (anti-Soviet) jihad was won not because of patriotic unity but in spite of intense and bitter rivalries among ethnically based groupings of mujahedeen. Rhetoric to the contrary, they were fighting and dying less for their country than for their own lands and families and co-ethnics. And, of course, for Islam.” As for the absence of separatist movements, “no one ethnic region possessed the size and resources to exist on its own,” and none wanted to be annexed by its neighbors. “In short, there were no serious separatist movements because no serious options existed.” Instead, Azoy maintained, Afghanistan’s topography, its various ethnicities, its political origins, and its subsequent history put its future as a nation-state in question. • The topography of Afghanistan creates three distinct frontier regions—the eastern fringe of Persia, the northwestern fringe of India, and the southern fringe of Central Asia. The often impassible Hindu Kush mountain range, running northeast to southwest, divides the country down the middle. “Kabul and Kandahar face towards fertile India; Kunduz and Mazar toward the deserts of Central Asia. So there’s a North and a South, and they’re very different. There’s also a West, where the Hindu Kush dwindle into flat plains. The ancient city of Herat, located on those flatlands, faces westward toward Iran. • Ethnicity “is the name of the game in all spheres of local life,” Azoy contended. The Pashtuns are the largest group (viewed as 40 percent of the population by neutral sources and at least 60 percent by Pashtun sources). “When combined with their Pashtun brethren in northwestern Pakistan, they constitute the world’s second-largest ethnic nation without its own state—unless you’re an Afghan Pashtun and you believe, as many of them do, that all Afghanistan belongs to you.” Pashtuns have ruled Afghanistan—insofar as anyone has ever really ruled it—for all but two brief periods in its 263-year history. “Pashtun society remains well and truly tribal. Norwegian anthropologist Frederick Barth notes that Pashtunwali, the so-called Pashtun code, includes a refusal to submit oneself to any form of supertribal authority, in particular to government. Once involved with government, Barth says, a Pashtun’s cultural authenticity is called into question. Karzai was expected to deliver his Pashtun kinsmen. It hasn’t happened, and “Barth’s observation may explain why not,” according to Azoy. The other main ethnic groups include Tajiks (Persian-speaking, Indo-European); Hazaras (Persian-speaking, Mongol-descended); Uzbeks and Turkmens (Turkic-speaking from East-Central Asia); and a catch-all category of eastern mountaineers now called Nuristanis, whose languages change from valley to valley These various non-Pashtun groups differ among themselves, but they share a deep-seated if often hidden resentment of Pashtun hegemony. Azoy told the story of an experience he had in the north in the 1970s. “The governor, a Pashtun from Kandahar, took me into his confidence and showed me a map with several villages of the same name: Naaqel. This word has to do with transport and conveyance. The Naaqel villages, all on rich, river-bottom land, were peopled by Pashtuns who’d been moved north from their southern homeland by the Pashtun government in Kabul. Their mission: to convey Pashtunism, to make all Afghanistan Pashtun in fact as well as in name. The other ethnicities had to sit and take it and hate it…until the onset of chaos in 1978. Thereafter each of them—in various combinations and subdivisions—reasserted a measure of long-lost autonomy.” The Pashtun Taliban took this autonomy from them in the late 1990s, and they gained it back after 9/11. “They are not about to be bossed except by their ethnic bosses. These minorities are suspicious of government but not viscerally opposed to it. Note that our current troubles are not with non-Pashtuns, and not in the north, except in those areas peopled by Naaquel Pashtuns sympathetic to their Taliban kinsmen.” • Political history has played a major role in creating a doomed Afghanistan. During the time of The Great Game between the British and the Russians in the 19th century, a weak Afghanistan was useful. The Durand Line, drawn by London, separated Afghanistan from British India (now Pakistan) and divided the Pashtun people in half. In addition, Abdur Rahman, who ruled Afghanistan from1880 to1901, cut a deal with the British. The British provided subsidies in return for control over foreign affairs. The subsidies allowed Abdur Rahman to finance and achieve unprecedented internal control, but made Afghanistan into a dependent state—which it remains today, in many ways. “Who, long-term, will pay its bills?” • Events since 2001 have played a role in destabilizing Afghanistan, Azoy said lastly. “In my opinion, a pair of consequential mistakes was made at the Bonn Conference in December 2001. First it was decided, proudly and unrealistically, to make Afghanistan far more government-centralized than ever before. Secondly and stupidly, the preconflict monarchy was discarded. The old king, who had far deeper Pashtun support than Karzai, is dead. And Karzai, re-elected in a farce and faced with unprecedented levels of corruption, maintains a doomed centralist façade while negotiating with a Taliban movement that, I believe, has little reason to negotiate. ” Azoy concluded with this view of possible American actions. The strategy called “Recreate the State” has little likelihood of success. When we leave, the central government will leave shortly thereafter and the Taliban will return. Alternatively, the US can, as it has begun to do with the Shinwaris, settle for a “Bribe the Tribe” strategy. We deliver development resources directly to the tribal elders, and in return, they burn Taliban houses. This approach is not a short-term fix; it may need to go on for decades. However, “it would cost fewer American lives, probably fewer Afghan lives, and maybe even fewer US tax dollars than what we do now.” Azoy ended with this thought: “Bribe the Tribe, or course, would not be regarded as directly supporting the Afghan central government and thus the Afghan nation-state. Indeed, it would seem to undermine those modern-era institutions. But, at a minimum, let’s bite the bullet and ask ourselves whether, long-term, Afghanistan will survive anyway—whether it has the DNA of enduring nation-statehood. I have my doubts. I hope I’m wrong.”
Q: Was the American policy of building democracy fated to failure from the beginning?
Azoy: Not from the beginning. We should have aimed to return to the preconflict status of a mini-state, which sort of worked, reigned by a constitutional monarch. Enormous emphasis should have been put on security, and much less on economic development. Afghans don’t starve. Instead we developed a political roadmap that assembled a structure in which Afghans now have no faith at all.
Q: Given that 30 percent of the population has fled over the last 30 years, and another 20 percent has been killed or internally dislocated, is the tribal structure still really the controlling factor?
Azoy: The tribal structure, however debilitated, has deep roots. Memories are long and loyalties are long. It is still the most deeply rooted authority structure in the Pashtun south.
Q: Does the US fear that Afghanistan will be fragmented, or that it will be unified under the Taliban?
Azoy: In 2001 the Taliban was on the brink of controlling the whole country. Can they do it again? I think it is possible, but they’ll have a bigger tussle on their hands with non-Pashtuns in the north. If the Taliban had conquered the country in 2001, I don’t think we would have a Taliban government today. Governments don’t last long in Afghanistan. The real question is whether the Taliban will cut its ties with al Qaeda.
Q:Can you see good leadership reversing the fortunes of Afghanistan?
Azoy: The big issue is legitimacy. Who has the legitimacy to sell himself to the Afghan people as a leader? Without that legitimacy, you are not going to get leadership. The democratic process is largely discredited. If you can’t get legitimacy, forget it.
~ G. Whitney Azoy is a cultural anthropologist with 40 years of experience working in and with Afghanistan. He is the immediate past director of the American Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul. He is the author of Buzkashi: Game and Power in Afghanistan.
What Future for Pakistan?
Embracing cultural diversity is an urgent project.
Acknowledging Pakistan’s current state of crisis, Samina Quraeshi asked Conference participants to join her in imagining “a much more optimistic future for Pakistan.” Such a future, she believes, will require “a Pakistan that is proud of its internal ethnic and linguistic diversity, its national role in a regional ecosystem, and its unique relationship to religion.” In order for this dream to become a reality and for Pakistan to flourish, its government and its citizens need to create a truly pluralist society. Pluralism means the active and collective creation of a shared and cohesive society out of its diverse ethic and spiritual elements. The government of Pakistan would like its citizens to think they are all the same, Quraeshi says, but they are not. The country is a mosaic of geographical regions, ethnicities, and languages, and Pakistanis need to embrace having multiple, “hyphenated” identities. Pakistani policy must support the development of civil-society institutions, engage with the hopes of its youth, and invest in preserving and advancing its varied forms of cultural expression. The first step is peaceful coexistence, which is currently under threat from widespread religious misinformation and illiteracy. The general public is surprisingly unaware of the diversity of religious expressions and beliefs that have evolved in differing social, geographic, and historical contexts. The news media sensationalize extremist violence so that violence characterizes images of Islam in the West. The voice of fundamentalist Islam comes to represent the entire Muslim world, and diverse ethnic identities are fused into the image of an al Qaeda suicide bomber. But the reductive instinct to turn someone’s faith into his or her identity is also a tool governments use to mask the absence of a popular mandate or the weakness of civil institutions. Successive Pakistani governments have found it politically expedient to collapse diverse ethnic and linguistic identities, political aspirations, and cultural practices into the image of a homogenous Pakistani nationalism, resolute in its Islam and its opposition to the nation-state of India, willfully ignorant of the existential threats that are splintering the state from within. These threats are various, and the security risks they represent reverberate throughout the world today. Quraeshi asked if these challenges can be turned into opportunity. Can we activate the heterogeneity of Pakistan’s cultures and cultural practices towards national stability and peace? She noted that celebrating cultural diversity has become a cliché, especially in the West. It is certainly no substitute for widespread literacy, health, the rule of law, and strong institutions that encourage peaceful political dissent. But in a context such as Pakistan, it is an urgent project. Quraeshi described herself as an artist who has spent 30 years travelling between her country and the US, using art to introduce complex cultural nuances into the popular understanding between these two worlds. To do so, she has relied on her belief that her identities as an artist, a woman, a mother, a Pakistani, a Muslim, and an American citizen are not in conflict. The overlap of these identities was not a matter of discovery; it was a matter of choice. She believes her own choice offers clues to how we might imagine a different future for Pakistan. The great Indian economist Amartya Sen argues in Identity and Violence that violence is fomented by the imposition of singular, belligerent identities on gullible people, championed by proficient artisans of terror. He advocates not suppressing identity but drawing it out, because competing identities can challenge the force of a single, bellicose identity. The importance of Islam to millions of Pakistanis should not and could not be diminished. But Quraeshi asserts that the plurality of Islamic practice within Pakistan can be made visible, and art and cultural self-knowledge are very powerful tools. Cultural diplomacy is badly needed at this point. For Pakistanis to know themselves and to understand and reverse the forces that seek to splinter the society apart, they must remember a time not long ago when the country was young and on a path to becoming a standard-bearer for representative democracy in Muslim-majority nations. Pakistan today is very different. In the last three decades, drastic social and cultural transformations have occurred. These changes have evolved along with the rise of poverty, lack of justice, and a lower and middle class that is being trained to believe that religion is the answer to all their ills. A widespread illiteracy about Islam and Pakistan fuels ignorance and fear, prejudice and antagonism, and hinders peaceful coexistence. The new story has to be about Islamic reformation, cross-cultural dialogue, modernization, and the nurture of democracy. Harnessing the power of art and culture is a means to this end. People need to take pride in their own stories. Society will change when people change their way of thinking. Exposure to both the historical context of Islamic cultural development, and to the diversity of ways in which Islam is practiced, is the best way to counter the redefinition of Islam by violent fundamentalists. Both the West and Pakistan need to know that Islam is not about violence and intolerance. Most importantly, Islam’s many paths need to be communicated to the younger generation through improved curricula and multimedia initiatives. We need to intervene in ways that will energize cultural production, nurture emerging voices, and educate communities here and abroad. Pakistan is a land where multiple affiliations— familial, tribal, regional, political, ethnic, linguistic, and religious— currently compete, often violently. It is a country of multiple and overlapping migrations. We need to allow these affiliations and cultural influences to coexist within the same individual and the same society. That’s the only way to build a road map to a pluralist society with institutions that provide for nonviolent political dissent and reform. On the road to realizing that dream, celebration of cultural diversity is a good place to start. Quraeshi cited the words of His Highness the Aga Khan: “Those who talk about an inevitable ’clash of civilizations’ can point today to an accumulating array of symptoms which sometimes seems to reflect their diagnosis. I believe, however, that this diagnosis is wrong—that its symptoms are more dramatic than they are representative—and that these symptoms are rooted in human ignorance rather than human character. The problem of ignorance is a problem that can be addressed. Perhaps it can even be ameliorated—but only if we go to work on our educational tasks with sustained energy, creativity, and intelligence.” Quraeshi concluded proudly, “Pakistan is creative. It has energy. It has intelligence. Pakistan Zendabad!” (“Long live Pakistan!”)
Q: Can you think of a cultural-diplomacy effort that might unite the US and Pakistan through art, literature, or people-to-people exchanges?
Quraeshi: Cultural education is the way to replace the narrative of pernicious messages. It’s through the power of drama, music, film, and television. All of this culture is burgeoning in Pakistan, but it needs resources and technical support. We need a cultural exchange like we had in the time of the Kennedys, when we exchanged teachers and shared resources and technical knowledge.
Q: What is the Aga Khan’s role in all of this?
Quraeshi: The Aga Khan is a very important figure in cultural preservation. The Aga Khan Foundation works throughout the Muslim world on initiatives for the preservation of culture. For example, he funds the Sacred Music Festival in Morocco, which collects music from all across the Muslim world. These efforts represent the single largest, most cohesive effort to preserve Islamic culture and present it to the world at a level that creates understanding.
Q: Could you comment about civil-society initiatives in Pakistan?
Quraeshi: Pakistanis have created a subterranean current of civil society. There’s charity for people who are really disadvantaged, and there are forums such as the Women’s Action Forums. There are TV serials that carry a message, and a fledgling movie industry. It’s very important to realize that there are these movements all through Pakistan. These efforts have been repressed for so long. People have confused the act of piety with preservation of culture. They think it’s not being a good Muslim to appreciate the arts. Cultural diplomacy can play a role in changing that perception, so that it is possible to do both.
~ Samina Quraeshi is an award-winning artist, author, and educator, and she is a Visiting Artist and Fellow at Harvard University. Her design firm in Massachusetts serves a diverse international clientele. She is a specialist in the cultures of South Asia and the internal challenges in Pakistan.
Afghanistan and Pakistan in Turmoil —The View from India
India’s growing role as a world power.
While Pakistan remains fearfully fixated on its powerful neighbor to the east, India has moved on. New Delhi’s “most important external partner” is the US, and China has replaced Pakistan as its key “strategic rival—the country whose status on the international scene India wants to match.” US/India relations are characterized by hope, while US policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan are forged more “out of fear of what could go wrong.” Yet, in presenting the view from India on the turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Teresita Schaffer stressed how unresolved issues with Pakistan continue to influence how the two great democracies pursue their “growing convergence of interests.” Looking back to the Cold War years, when Russia was India’s major ally, this 30-year US Foreign Service veteran explained how all this changed with the demise of the Soviet Union and India’s own turn to economic expansion as “a driver of their foreign policy.” Soon to become a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council and already a member of the Group of 20, India is on its way to having a position “as a member of the board of the world.” To put in context how India’s altered position in the world is affecting its view of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and US policy towards those countries, Schaffer directed the audience back to last November’s visit to Washington by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Old subcontinent hands would have been astonished that the word Pakistan barely crossed his lips in public appearances,” she noted, while Afghanistan “rated a mention in every speech he gave.” Even more surprising, “Manmohan Singh’s basic message was, we want the US to stick around and to succeed.” Schaffer then turned to India’s current take on Pakistan: “For India, Pakistan represents a challenge to their whole idea of being a multicultural secular state. For Pakistan…India represents the eternal enemy and existential threat.” Kashmir was the one Muslim-majority area that did not become part of Pakistan when the British left, she noted, and an area that the two countries have fought two and a half wars over. “The real problem for Pakistan is that Kashmir…is unfinished business of partition,” while for India, “the problem is that this has led to a half-century of intermittent subversion, violence, and unresolved problems with what is now a nuclear-armed neighbor.” Pakistan has relied increasingly on “asymmetric warfare” to deal with the matter, Schaffer said, an example being “infiltration of insurgents from Pakistan into India, sometimes with the support of Pakistani official sources, sometimes on their own, and always a very ambiguous area.” An official dialogue begun by India and Pakistan in 2004 came to an abrupt end with the attack by such insurgents from Pakistan on the Taj Hotel and other places in Mumbai on Thanksgiving, 2008. “I want to stress how traumatic this has been on India.” Speculation is rife that another such incident would harden India’s position and lead it to adopt a “let them bleed” stance toward Pakistan. “I’m actually not so sure about that,” Schaffer said. But she conceded that the problem is not trivial, and it begs the question, “Does either India or Pakistan want to make peace? My answer is yes—but.” In the earlier dialogue, just before President Pervez Musharraf left office, Pakistan and India “came very close to agreeing to the basis for a settlement in Kashmir.” But neither side really sold the deal at home. As a result, “the political strength and salesmanship of the leaders in both those countries are the critical ingredients in having a real breakthrough.” Unfortunately, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is “by no means strong enough to push through a breakthrough with India,” while Manmohan Singh is “likely to behave cautiously” unless he has a sense that the Pakistani leader can successfully push through a settlement that “inevitably is going to be much closer to India’s idea of what it ought to be than to Pakistan’s.” Schaffer then turned to Afghanistan, with which India has had close relations for decades. A major Pakistan objective in Afghanistan is “to minimize India’s influence—down to zero if at all possible,” while India wants to make sure that “…Pakistan be the only game in town.” Against this background, India just after 9/11 “saw the US involvement in Afghanistan as a way to get rid of the Taliban, who was seen as a creature not just of Pakistan, but of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the instrument of Pakistan’s use of extremists as a foreign policy tool.” India is a heavy donor to and popular with the Afghans, something the US has welcomed. But India is “intensely frustrated” that Washington has not let it help on the security side, out of “deference to Pakistan.” Schaffer then related how the US has attempted to “de-hyphenate” its policy toward India and Pakistan and keep them on separate tracks. “Unfortunately, India and Pakistan have not de-hyphenated. They are both more than eager to figure out who is number one on the hit parade.” She added, “India has a major concern that… especially on terrorism issues, the US will once again pull back from the logical consequences of the Pakistani role,” whether in Afghanistan or inside India. That said, “the US and India’s interests are not far apart in either Pakistan or Afghanistan,” Schaffer argued. Both want Pakistan to “stay together, for the state to reassert its authority, and for it to do so in a way that hopefully cuts the legs off the Islamic extremist groups.” And in Afghanistan, both “would like to see stability; a move toward more effective government; and not having extremists, particularly with ties to al Qaeda, as the moving force in that country.” In practice, however, the US “has to put up with a substantial Pakistani role.” The question with which Schaffer concluded was, “Does the road to a happier Afghanistan have to lead through Kashmir?” Her short answer was no. “I think that the US needs to be focused on both problems.” It has an active role in Afghanistan, and a “largely passive role in India/Pakistan diplomacy.” Back-channel talks before Musharraf left office are “in my mind, the model of how you can get India/Pakistan diplomacy working again.” The US can help quietly and discreetly, but “there is in my judgment, no useful role for a high-profile diplomatic effort.”
~ Teresita Schaffer is the director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. During her 30-year career with the US Foreign Service, she specialized in international economics and South Asia. From 1989 to 1992, she was deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia, and from 1995 to 1997, she was US Ambassador to Sri Lanka.
US Military Strategy in Afghanistan
The challenge of pursuing four different strategies with one tool.
Because his current work as a professor at the US Army War College made him the only speaker still in government service, Larry Goodson began his talk with the disclaimer that the views he was about express were his alone and not those of the War College, the Army, or the US government. Goodson went on to explain how his topic, the Army’s Afghanistan strategy, fits into the government’s overall policies in the South Asia region, noting that the military was only one tool of our national security policy makers (the others being “diplomacy, foreign trade, development, and information”), though it was currently our biggest tool. He cautioned that to understand any military strategy, we must first understand the national policy it was serving. He outlined President Obama’s two major statements of US Afghanistan policy: first his March 2009 “White Paper,” and later his speech at West Point. The President’s core goal, Goodson noted, was to “disrupt and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens in Pakistan and prevent their return to Pakistan or Afghanistan.” Objectives supporting this core goal include building up the Afghan government and security forces, and getting more foreign (ie, NATO) involvement. After the first policy statement, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed to set the strategy and carry it out. Leaks of his strategy to the press then caused a policy re-evaluation that led to the President’s West Point speech. In that speech, President Obama emphasized transferring more of the burden to the regional authorities by: working more closely with Pakistan’s government in the border safe havens, building the Afghan government through a “civilian surge,” and providing the US military resources to make this transfer possible. To execute this policy, McChrystal called for a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy labeled COIN, with four major areas of emphasis. The first was using US troops to build up Afghan security forces (army and police) and engage in joint operations with them, using a “clear, hold, and build” approach, ie, “pushing into Taliban-held areas, clearing them of insurgents, then….holding those areas so that follow-on forces can come in to build infrastructure and services (to) strengthen the population’s connection to the (Afghan) government.” The second emphasis would focus on building “responsive and accountable governance” in the country to overcome disillusionment with the Karzai regime among US voters, our allies, and the Afghan people after the “fiasco of the August 2009 Afghan elections” and the notorious corruption in that government. McChrystal’s third area of strategic emphasis was to “gain the initiative” over the Taliban insurgency in the country, and Goodson cited the current campaign against Marjah, the Taliban stronghold in northern Helmand Province, as an example of this approach. The fourth and final strategic emphasis, called “focus of resources,” called for more population-friendly tactics, such as sharply reducing the likelihood of civilian casualties and “increasing the cultural and language training of the troops.” Goodson then examined the challenges to “weaving together successfully the four threads” of McChrystal’s COIN strategy, given the situation in Afghanistan. First he mentioned the problem of building a trusting relationship between the Karzai government and the Afghan people, given the former’s corruption and electoral chicanery. Then came the problem of trying to pursue four parallel but very different strategies—nation-building, counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and conventional combat—with divided leadership and with a tool (the military) that is very expensive and really only good at one of the four missions (conventional combat). The next challenge discussed was that of dealing with the many players—Iran, China, Pakistan, Russia, and India, to name only a few—and the national interests at stake in this highly complex situation, in which everyone doubts the US ability to persevere. To this point, Goodson saw a major challenge to all four goals of the McChrystal strategy in Obama’s set date of July 2011 for the draw-down of the American military presence in Afghanistan. He asked, “How do we achieve (the needed) success in those areas of strategy that take a longer time period to ripen? And what about the enemy?” Goodson then mused on several disquieting similarities between our position in our eighth year in the Afghanistan war and that of the Soviet Union in 1987—the eighth year of their war in that country. He noted that the USSR “left Afghanistan in 1989 and ceased to exist in December 1991, and added, “I do not wish to reason by analogy; nor do I wish to ignore the lessons of history.” Either way, “the US faces a difficult conundrum, which put simply is this: we cannot afford to stay and we cannot afford to go.” We are left, he said, with the lame alternative of “the old ‘declare victory and get out before anyone can prove otherwise’ approach.” Goodman concluded by saying, “I disagree that the war in Afghanistan is lost and believe that we cannot afford to lose it,” yet added that he could not see how we could be successful in a war that will require a sustained effort when the long-term support of both the Afghan people and the American taxpayers is already in serious doubt. Having begun his talk with a disclaimer, Goodson ended with another, admitting that he “may have left (us) with more questions than answers” on this difficult topic.
~ Larry Goodson is the Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of National Security and Strategy in the US Army War College. He conducts a special program on Afghanistan at the War College and consults frequently on South Asia with senior military leaders. He consults widely with both government and nongovernment agencies.
Assessing US Prospects and Policies in South Asia
US and NATO forces are now in the middle of an Afghan civil war.
Paul Pillar argued that vital US interests are not at stake in Afghanistan and that a substantial presence of US and NATO troops in the country will not lead to stability in such an impoverished, divided tribal land with no strong central government. Pillar, a leading expert on South Asia and a former senior counterterrorism official, maintained that US strategy in the region should focus on counterterrorism: in confronting, tracking, and defeating extremist forces such as al Qaeda. Al Qaeda leaders, he argued, are not even in Afghanistan any longer, have plenty of safe havens elsewhere, and would not be welcomed back by most Taliban forces if the latter regained control of major parts of the country. The new emphasis on counterinsurgency, Pillar added, will not succeed in bringing stability to the entire country due to a weak sense of nationhood, an illegitimate central government, and the amount of time and resources it would take to prevail even partially. “Even if (General Stanley) McChrystal’s strategy succeeds completely, that will stabilize only a part of the country, leaving plenty of safe havens (for terrorists). Meanwhile, the foreign, military occupation motivates and unites the disparate Taliban forces and drains any reservoir of good will towards the United States.” Pillar cited recent polls that show a dramatic drop in favorable attitudes towards the US in Afghanistan, despite extensive American-led improvements such as schools and new roads: from 80 per cent in favor in 2005, to barely more than 50 per cent in 2009. The US is engaged in Afghanistan today, according to Pillar, only because it was the origin of the 9/11 terrorist attack. The rationale for the US intervention after 9/11 was justified, and the war would have been undertaken by whoever was president at the time. At that time, the US was welcomed into the country, and the troops succeeded in routing al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. But the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq—which Pillar described as “a contrived war” based on false assumptions and intelligence—took valuable resources and attention from Afghanistan. The US should have declared victory in Afghanistan and gone home in 2003—or devoted more resources to rebuilding the country then. Today, in contrast to our position in 2003, US and NATO forces are in the middle of an Afghan civil war. “Our deep involvement in Afghanistan cannot be comprehended in a dispassionate analysis of US national interests,” Mr. Pillar said at one point. “This is all to do with preventing al Qaeda from conducting terrorist acts. First of all, al Qaeda is not even in Afghanistan. (Yet) we are focused on a surrogate enemy—the Taliban. And if the Taliban took over again, I see no reason that they would seek to host al Qaeda once more.” For one thing, he said, the Afghan Taliban, with a few exceptions, are not a transnational terror group. “Their goals are not bin Laden’s goals. They are one of the most insular bands ever to get the kind of international attention they are getting. And they do not care about the US except that we’re in the way.” He added that there are not even many Afghans involved in international terror. Furthermore, Pillar said he doubted that al Qaeda would want to move back into Afghanistan if the Taliban were to take over. “They know they would be exposed to the same kind of overwhelming US firepower they faced after 9/11.” Also, pointing out that much of the 9/11 attack was plotted in Spain, Germany, and the US, Pillar observed that al Qaeda has no shortage of safe havens. He cited Yemen and Somalia, and referred to the Nigerian origins and London education of the would-be Detroit bomber. “Al Qaeda leaders are successfully hidden in Northwest Pakistan today. And ideology and readiness of radicalized recruits are far more critical to them than a piece of acreage.” Pillar also asserted that a Taliban victory in Afghanistan would not lead to an increase in instability in Pakistan. Pakistan, he said, sees the Afghan Taliban as an asset and an insurance policy, as part of “strategic depth” in their obsessive rivalry with India. He does not believe Pakistani leaders would decrease their cooperation with the US in tackling terrorism, even if the Taliban were once again in control of Afghanistan. He addressed the “credibility” question of a US pull-back. “One more rationale for our continuing engagement is that to back down from this existing commitment would severely damage our credibility.” That position is strikingly reminiscent of the war in Vietnam, a war in which Pillar served as an officer. “That underlying assumption is as unexamined and invalid today as it was then,” he said. He noted that the US would not criticize its allies if they pulled back from a conflict in which their core interests were not at stake. He recommended a book by Dartmouth professor, Darryl Press, titled Calculating Credibility. In a brief question-and-answer period, Pillar expanded on his presentation. He said a pull-back might lead to a short-term “propaganda victory” for al Qaeda, but that would not last very long. A pull-back later, he noted, would be considered an even larger defeat. As for what constitutes vital US interests in South Asia, he listed three, none of which is improved by an extensive engagement in Afghanistan. The first is preventing a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and others include the stability of Pakistan and expanding the now improved US relations with India. He said he supports US and NATO negotiations with the Taliban, a central tenet of keynote speaker Ahmed Rashid’s talk. He said such negotiations should focus on a “set of individual bargains” with various Afghan tribal chiefs. He said he would not try to put a limit on the number of US troops that will need to stay in the country for a certain period of time—troops and personnel needed to pursue an effective counterterrorism strategy. But the aim should be to work out an accommodation that allows a full withdrawal in time.
~ Paul Pillar is Georgetown University’s Director of Graduate Studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies. He retired in 2005 from a 28-year career in the US intelligence community, in which his last position was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia.
US Policies and Prospects in South Asia
The execution of our policy will determine our success or failure.
By the time Ambassador Neumann took the stage, four speakers (Rashid, Azoy, Goodson, and Pillar) had, in combination, presented a fairly glum assessment of the American intervention in Afghanistan, citing a largely failed mission and only dim hopes for a graceful exit. Neumann took immediate issue with this assessment. He made four quick points:
- While there may be no possibility of military victory in Afghanistan, there is still such a thing as defeat, something we need to avoid.
- A precipitous exit from Afghanistan would tend to destabilize Pakistan.
- There is more time than is generally conceded.
- Strong presidential leadership could stiffen the resolve of the American people enough to see the Afghan government through the next two to three years, the time needed for our current policy to take effect.
He then went on to outline our current policy: to nurse the current Afghan government into a state of stability and sustainability, secure the population, and place responsibility for its continued security in Afghan hands. He expressed comfort with this policy, but stressed that it wasn’t enough to have the right policy in place; execution of that policy will determine our success or failure. Because earlier speakers had endorsed proposals for negotiation with the Taliban, Neumann turned his attention next to the Taliban and any possible role it might play in a generally healthy Afghan future. He indicated that the earlier assertions of distance between the Taliban and al Qaeda could not be confirmed by his experience and current knowledge. He thought it was relevant that we referred to 9/11 as a terrorist attack, but within al Qaeda and the Taliban it was called “the raid on New York.” That was a sign to him that they viewed it not as a single isolated event, but as part of an enduring war. “9/11 looked to us like the beginning of something, but that’s because we hadn’t been paying attention,” Neumann asserted. For them it was part of a much larger and continuing struggle. He suggested that President Obama’s articulation of an 18-month surge was a strategic error, because it puts the Taliban and al Qaeda in a position to wait out American departure, as they had waited out the eventual retreat of Soviet forces. In his own interaction with General McChrystal and other military figures, Neumann had been assured that the 18-month interval was meant to end in a “possible and gradual” ramping down of our forces, dependent on the situation on the ground. He deplored that the President himself had talked about the 2011 date as part of a fairly strict timetable for withdrawal, something that could only harden our adversaries. Neumann characterized himself as “relatively optimistic,” at least compared to earlier speakers. He said that although there was evidence of some recent decline among Afghans in their support for a US presence, they were still strongly on our side, “though they sometimes wonder if we know what we’re doing.” He said that support for the Taliban was weak, and implied it would become weaker. He then turned to an assessment of the Karzai government. Karzai had his problems, the Ambassador admitted—including bias toward a much too centralized government—but pointed out that he was nonetheless a very savvy politician. He may have fudged the extent of his victory in the recent election, but all observers seemed willing to admit that he had fairly won the votes of some 46 percent of the electorate, a margin that was larger that Bill Clinton’s in his first presidential run. Neumann said that Karzai was “the man we have got,” and went on to reflect that deserting a leader in a government we were trying to sustain had never been a great idea (think Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam). The new cabinet, in his opinion, had a good number of competent, powerful figures, albeit with a few “clunkers” thrown in. Yes, the 2009 election had cost Karzai legitimacy in Western eyes, but legitimacy in Afghanistan came from different sources, and could still be earned back. For many Afghans, elections are a problematic concept anyway, and a bit of artful finagling in the vote counts would not weigh very heavily against a figure of Karzai’s stature. The election could have been less delegitimizing, but we handled it badly. The image of Senator Kerry reading the riot act to Karzai was, for many Afghans, an indication that their president was little more than a US puppet. One of Karzai’s best qualities, Neumann told us, was his fine sense of how much change the Afghan people can be expected to accept, and how much is too much. He said that we lacked this very sense, and had repeatedly gotten ourselves in trouble as a result. Neumann returned to the matter of policy and execution, and repeated his contention that execution is now what matters most. How can we proceed from here? Well, we could short-change training, for example; save money on support; de-staff key assistance bodies; and sure enough, we’d get a lackluster result. On the other hand, we could train lavishly and keep sustaining troops at the ready during the process, and expect to get a very acceptable result: an Afghan security force that could eventually hold the society together without our help. But that could not be done in 18 months. The only thing we could engineer in 18 months, he said, was our own defeat. Finally, Neumann observed that our military presence in Germany, South Korea, and Kosovo had endured far longer than the Afghan venture. These presences were not actively engaged, but still represented a stabilizing influence. Such a long-term, nonactivist US military presence in Afghanistan, he thought, might be a reasonable measure to achieve peace in this volatile region.
~ Ronald Neumann is the President of the American Academy of Diplomacy in Washington, DC, an organization of former senior US Foreign Service officers formed to strengthen the resources of American diplomats. Before his retirement in 2007, Neumann was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and three-times Ambassador to Algeria, Bahrain, and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, among many other postings.
The View from Kabul
Athanasios Moulakis presented a remarkable selection of slides that gave Conference participants an insider’s view of the city of Kabul, and he used the images as a basis for his observations about life in today’s Afghanistan. He began his remarks by explaining that he had spent two years in Kabul, setting up The American University of Afghanistan, the purpose of which was to bring “best American practices to a country that needs them very badly…to bring them in a way that is respectful of their ways, and to weave these practices into the texture of the society in such a way that they have a long-lasting effect…I think we are doing not only a piece of education but a piece of public diplomacy in the best sense.” The first slide was a view from his terrace looking out over Kabul. Today there is no trace of the old empire, he observed. Kabul was once a pleasant garden town, but now everything is covered with sandbags. Walls are made even higher by barbed wires. A Shiite madrassah funded by private Iranian sources was clearly visible; it houses the best library in Afghanistan. But Moulakis spoke of “the extraordinary mixture of vibrancy and squalor that is the life of Kabul.” The city stands at an elevation of 6,000 feet, surrounded by mountains that rise up precipitously. Electricity (one power line from Tajikistan and another more recent one from Uzbekistan) is weak and sporadic. There is little public lighting. “You can see the most beautiful skies…the night skies in particular…Kabul is the only major city I know over which you can see the Milky Way.” Of a slide of houses climbing up the hills, he observed, “…most of them (are) illegal, and mostly without proper sewage…mostly mud brick, very well-suited material to the climate…streets are either mud or dust…the amount of dust is unbelievable…full of cars…pollution from generators that are everywhere…filth rises in the early morning until you lose sight of everything around you…” The per capita income is $2 per day. Life expectancy is 40 years. The country has the worst infant mortality rate in the world. The literacy rate is less than 20 percent, worse for women. “Yet there is an extraordinary sense of beauty, of the good life,” said Moulakis as he showed a display in a marketplace of fish, artfully arranged amid leaves to entice shoppers. “The streets are full of vitality and enterprise.” Empowering women is important but difficult. “In any (other) country, no matter how poor…a woman can take out a tray and (sell something)…In Afghanistan she cannot; there are no saleswomen,” said Moulakis. He went on to describe a women’s gym started by a woman in her home. Her father owned the house, the equipment was owned by her brother, and the business was owned by her husband. Of children in the Kabul streets, Moulakis told the Conference, “If (they are) not orphans, they might as well be. They have to fend for themselves. He told of a Colorado foundation project that organizes children to collect rubbish to make heating briquettes, saving the children from indigence and prostitution—which he said is not often talked about but very widespread. Moulakis lived in a so-called Pakistani house—“Anything awful you call Pakistani,” he explained. These grand, new mansions are also called “poppy pop-ups.” Poppies, one third of the economy, affect the lives of almost everyone. Ninety percent of the world’s opium is grown in Afghanistan. “Opium…is a grateful crop. You just throw the seed and up it comes. And you collect it with very cheap labor, women and children” said Moulakis. But poppies are not a traditional Afghan crop; they were once grown only sparingly. There was very little addiction. Poppy-growing now is the result of the wartime economy. “The profits are certainly not for the farmer. The farmer (grows poppies) because he can’t make a living any other way…the profits go to the people who control the transport and the protection.” The warlords who traffic in opium are usurers: farmers have to repay debts at large interest rates in kind. “If we in our wisdom go out and burn the crop, of course the farmer is not off the hook. The narco-usurer will either come in and chop his hand off or take his daughter. It is a cruel country,” he observed. No offices are being built—only “Pakistani houses”. The only businesses that work are telecom companies, airlines, and banks. Afghanistan is traditionally an agricultural country, and the agriculture has been sorely neglected. “People with skills do not work for Afghan ministries—(they) work for the Red Cross, for the Dutch Embassy.” Humanitarian aid works; developmental aid is more difficult. Agencies face the dilemma of delivering the aid themselves or hiring local people or agencies. Moulakis said, “If you give the local (institutions) the opportunity to do it, chances are it won’t get done or won’t get done well…if you don’t, you undermine the authority of the state you are trying to build up…What will happen to the donor-driven economy when the donors leave?” Showing a slide of a spectacular courtyard, he said, “This, on the other hand, is one of the wonderful things…the Tomb of Babur, the great emperor who started the Moghul empire in India…He…loved Kabul because it is a wonderfully cool and lovely place and has the world’s most beautiful roses,” said Mr. Moulakis. The garden has been restored by the Aga Khan, who has also funded universities and other projects. “This is typical of the work of the Aga Khan—in perfect taste, using the best people, in a way that is modest and superb and lifting of the spirit (in a) place that needs moments of peace and beauty…” Looking at a slide of an army checkpoint going up to the mountains, Moulakis pointed out that even if the Afghan state were able to collect all the taxes due, the amount would barely cover the army’s expenses, but not any other salaries, services, or facilities. “We may build up the army, but it will still have to come from supplementary votes in the US Congress.” A final slide showed a school with tented classrooms in front of a spare building on a hill in the Kabul suburbs. Teachers, not buildings, are the problem with the educational system, observed Mr. Moulakis. “It is impossible to build up capacity until the educational possibilities improve…there (have been) improvements, but the starting point is extremely low.” “I hope that with the help of the generosity of the American people, we will be able to cast a ray of hope on this extraordinarily brave and much harried people,” concluded Mr. Moulakis.
Q: Can the Afghan people survive the 30 years of war? Are you hopeful?
Moulakis: In the beginning, yes; I’m not so sure now. Of course they will survive, but on their own terms. Our aid must be on their terms. Not too fast with women’s education. We must respect their ways.
Q: Do people want us to be there?
Moulakis: We are resented because we are needed; we are essential. Yes, we are unpopular—we are Western.
Q: How are the students in The American University of Afghanistan educated?
Moulakis: One in five is a woman. All have been in exile. Their education has been patchy. The first high school in the country was built in the 1920s. Afghans are largely illiterate. It will take generations to bring literacy to much of the population.
~ Athanasios Moulakis was the former Provost and Acting President of The American University of Afghanistan, after serving as a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars in Washington, DC. He has held numerous other academic and administrative posts at European and North American colleges and universities.
Lessons for American Policy
We have no choice but to be engaged in Asia.
Conference moderator and final speaker Nicholas Burns had the complex task of attempting to summarize the views presented thus far. Commending all the previous speakers for the quality of their insights on a complex topic—“international politics at its most challenging,” he observed enthusiastically that, “I found myself agreeing with thoughts of opposing points of view, spoken from the heart.” He singled out for special praise what he called the “human interest” content often missing from other similar conferences: “…politics where it really matters, at the grass roots.” Burns then went on to share five thoughts on US policy in South Asia derived from the Conference speakers. • Firstly, he emphasized the vital interests of the United States in the Middle East and South Asia, citing the ongoing shift of American engagement away from Europe and into Asia in response to long-term strategic challenges and interests reaching from Israel, Iran, and India to China. Burns called this a “profound shift” that would go on “50 to100 years into our children’s and grandchildren’s lifetimes” for many reasons. India, he pointed out, seeks a strategic US relationship while in the process of forging a state with multiple ethnic and religious components, and while becoming a key player in the region and in the world. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Iran and China are part of the mix. “This is not a distant hinterland. It is actually the core of the 21st century’s strategic challenges …” Burns noted that the US is “already engaged” in South Asia on multiple levels, strategically and economically, and really has “has no choice” in the matter. • Burns’ point two was that “the US can’t walk away from Afghanistan” due to that nation’s role in the Pakistan/India conflict and our “interwoven relationship with all three.” He noted that, after the defeat of the Taliban regime, our primary focus moved to Iraq, causing us to “take our eye off the ball” in Afghanistan and assume that the Taliban was no longer a danger there. Our conventional military effort, Burns said, became less and less effective: “… we have taken lots of towns but the lives of the people in those towns have not necessarily improved.” Our ongoing strategy, he said, must “rely less on fire power…and more on securing people where they are,” and most importantly, “hooking that up with economic aid and rehabilitation.” This assistance would have to focus on agriculture, infrastructure, the economy, and education. Burns concluded that he felt that the new counterinsurgency strategy was attempting to do all these things, and that we had to give it a try “because we haven’t done so effectively until now.” • The above notwithstanding, Burns’ third point was to caution that military victory may not be possible in Afghanistan, adding that an increase of combat troops may not lead to defeat of the Taliban and that any “victory” of the traditional kind would “not be worth the cost and effort.” He characterized the new US strategies and military activities as designed to prepare the ground for a transition to a diplomatic solution, through slowing the advance of the Taliban both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Burns saw an opportunity for reconciliation down the road once the security of the population is established and the local governments are able to maintain order on their own. Concluding on this point, he noted that “most civil wars around the world end in reconciliation” and that he couldn’t see the Afghan situation ending any other way. • As point four, Burns took up Samina Quraeshi’s cry, “Don’t give up on Pakistan!” Burns noted that that currently US/Pakistan relations are mired in media negativity and mistrust between the two governments. Yet, he warned, we can’t ignore the importance of Pakistan for many reasons: its location with Afghanistan between India and Iran, its independent border region linked to Afghanistan by tribal ties, its giving the Central Asian nations access to the coast, its possession of nuclear weapons technology, and its ongoing dispute with India over the Kashmir region. Pakistan deserves the same meaningful assistance that is required in Afghanistan to improve the lives of the Pakistani people and to provide its government with the tools to succeed. Not just military aid is required, Burns stressed, pointing out that it is vital to pair that commitment with substantial economic aid, cultural understanding, and educational assistance. Regarding Pakistan’s relations with India, we need to help with the resolution of past conflicts by supporting a dialogue aimed at finding common ground. At the same time, we must reassure both parties that this is possible without a threat to either nation’s sovereignty. Burns summed up: “We cannot walk away from this challenge. We have reason to be hopeful that extremism will not dictate the future of this region as long as meaningful dialogue is accompanied by the tools to improve the lives of the population.” • As his fifth and final point, Burns observed that “we need to build a global partnership with India.” He pointed out the importance of Secretary Rice’s decision to “de-link” our “zero-sum and regional” policy toward these two South Asian powers and develop separate relationships with each. Stating his belief that “the single most important issue we will face in the next century is China,” Burns said that the best, peaceful way to deal with the rise of China is to create a counterweight with other Asian powers. India, the second largest and second most economically successful nation in Asia, would be the key to this strategy. He further pointed out the growing business links between US and India, with Indian companies and Indian Americans being one of the most dynamic areas of business growth in America itself. Despite being the second largest Muslim country in the world, India “has struggled to develop a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation.” In the mix of South Asia, Burns said, “India…can bring special understanding to the task of providing help with schools, infrastructure, and political progress without having to pose a military threat to its neighbors,” if the obvious political issues can be overcome. A final reason for improving our relationship with India, Burns felt, is to give us more influence in encouraging it to be a more positive, supportive factor in the changing world political order and to take more responsibility in international institutions and cooperative efforts. Regarding the question raised at this Conference’s opening, as to whether we would all feel better today, Burns said, “I feel better,” affirming his belief that US foreign policy in South Asia was now on the right track, even though there is no guarantee of success. As he put it, “I do believe in the goodness of this country and the effectiveness of our government and our soldiers and diplomats to do the right thing and to be effective.”
Q: How does Central Asian oil affect strategy and policy in this region?
Burns: Our efforts to get India and Pakistan to utilize this resource to lessen their reliance on Iranian oil have been frustrated by the lack of security along the possible pipeline routes. The oil issue is also impacting the China/India competition in the Indian Ocean.
Q: Will NATO survive its failures in Afghanistan?
Burns: It must, because NATO is the world’s “best collection of military cohesion for peacekeeping.” That said, it’s undeniable that the European members’ performance in Afghanistan to date has been disappointing.
Q: Will it be feasible to have a “Marshall Plan” type of development program for Pakistan and Afghanistan, with contributions from all the interested nations in the region?
Burns: As has been pointed out several times, it’s crucial that the new economic powers—India, Brazil, and especially China—begin to contribute more to global challenges.
~ Nicholas Burns is now the Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics and Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project at the Kennedy School, Harvard University. He retired from the US State Department in 2008, after a 27-year career that included service as Ambassador to Greece and NATO, and Under Secretary of State.
Wrapping Up: Questions for All
The Camden Conference traditionally concludes with a discussion panel, allowing the audience to ask questions and the speakers to vigorously engage each other.
The Camden Conference traditionally concludes with a discussion panel that takes questions from the audience and engages the speakers with one another. Sunday’s panel this year included all of the Conference speakers, plus Cynthia Schneider, an expert in cultural diplomacy. She is a Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East, at the Brookings Institute, and she teaches Diplomacy and Culture at Georgetown University. Nicholas Burns moderated this year’s panel, directing each question to the speaker or speakers with relevant expertise. Burns asked that the first audience microphone be brought to a young Afghan student attending the Conference from a local academy in Maine. Burns noted that the student had been listening to other people talk about his country all weekend, and he certainly deserved to address the panel. He asked the first two questions.
Q:Do you think the Afghan people are ready to accept negotiations with the Taliban? My family and I endured the pain of their rule.
Neumann: I know that there is enormous nervousness among Afghans about negotiations. But President Obama has been very clear that we will negotiate some form of accommodation which brings people into an existing political system, not the granting of territorial control. Afghans have reason to be nervous, but they need not assume that we are going to rush out and be stupid. Rashid: Afghanistan civil society cannot develop in a state of war. We need to bring the war to an end—that’s the bottom line—not by surrender or leaving or the collapse of the government, but by negotiation. We will have to draw red lines. The progress achieved by the Afghan people in the last nine years in areas like education, health, and women’s empowerment cannot be rolled back by compromises. Ending the war and not rolling back achievements—those are the two benchmarks for the Afghan people. Azoy: Acceptance of negotiations depends on which Afghan you talk to. The farther south you go and the more Pashtun, the greater the acceptance. The farther north you go, the less—because they remember that the Taliban were not only religiously extreme, but ethnically ferocious. This time, the terms will have to be circumscribed very carefully in advance, in order for non-Pashtuns to accept even the notion of negotiations. Otherwise, there will be civil war.
Q:After the country is secured, how will aid be provided? Will it be administered by corrupt NGOs, or does the US government have some other strategy?
Neumann: The aid for Marjah initially will be funded through the military, for immediate construction. There will be an effort to put more money through Afghan agencies and organizations, in order to build their capacity. We will have to set standards for success that allow for some failures, but we need to build those capacities. Rashid: I advocate drastically reforming government aid agencies such as US AID. We don’t want to hand off the aid process to the military; that contradicts the very meaning of a civil society. The problem is that civilians can’t deliver aid in the midst of an insurgency. Our failure to reconstruct the aid process has led to the military doing things that are not their job. We don’t have an agency anywhere in the world that can deliver aid during an insurgency. Schneider: Afghanistan has suffered from international aid tending to turn away from agriculture, in part because it doesn’t bring quick results. Aid is now shifting back to agriculture, globally and in Afghanistan, because of a common-sense recognition that health begins with eating, and that many countries that require aid, including Afghanistan, are largely agrarian. Leading figures in Afghanistan will be setting up significant aid programs run by Afghans, and that should help.
Q:If uncoupling the Taliban from al Quaeda is a good idea, what is the priority to encourage it?
Pillar: Reasons to hope for that decoupling come not from anything we’d do specifically. The basic interests of the two groups are different, and friction was already developing when both groups were in Afghanistan. Our concern is to avoid doing anything that would be counterproductive and slow down the natural division between the two. Goodson: Tactically, there have been efforts to go after the senior leaders of both groups. But both are part of a larger Islamic militancy, and we need to try to change that orientation. We do need the uncoupling, but we also need a rejection of militant Islamism, and that debate is going on in Pakistan. The fringe elements that exist in Pakistan are providing the sanctuary for extremists. I agree that we should stay out of it and let the more moderate Afghan and Pakistani majorities carry on the debate.
Q:Is there a real shift in the role the military is playing, and is it helpful? (Burns added a secondary question: should we rebuild the State Department and US AID so that the military doesn’t have to play that role?)
Schaffer: Both of the above. The military has resources and a tremendous capacity to move fast in times of crisis, leading them to take on the role of disaster relief. But it is essential that the military not be the only game in town in urgent civilian work. The US government needs to increase the talent and skills in the State Department and AID. AID needs to get back to where its roots and heart are, and disaster relief and civil reconstruction in tough places would be a good place to start. They now have an Office of Transition Initiatives that specializes in postconflict reconstruction; Afghanistan isn’t right for them because it’s not postconflict. Schneider: In the area of cultural diplomacy, the Defense Department has astonishing resources and is using them intelligently. Secretary Gates has spoken about the importance of increasing diplomacy, but we haven’t seen the money for it yet. Goodson: The Department of Defense has started something called the Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands Program to develop expertise. When people come back from a deployment, they continue to work on Afghanistan to deepen their understanding. Then when they go back, they go to the same area. It’s a change in the way we think about our operational and tactical approach.
Q:What natural resources or human resources can be developed in Afghanistan to replace poppy production as one-third of the GDP?
Moulakis: What is needed is an entrepreneurial spirit, one that allows the creation of jobs, so the crux is human potential and that means education, education for jobs. The traditional subsistence (agricultural) economy has been allowed to wither. There is a great need for better packaging and transport of crops. The important thing is to create alternatives (to poppies), but we have to keep the farmer in the center of the image. Afghanistan needs access to markets other than through Pakistan, where Afghan goods are relabeled as Pakistani. Transport of goods by sea involves political hurdles that will require great patience to develop. Quraeshi: Again I turn toward women. The domestic realm can be turned into small industry. Empower women to practice crafts they know—carpets, embroidery—small things, but they can grow exponentially. The smallest economic impetus can encourage education—learning more to enhance productivity. The goods made by them should be labeled by them. They are pirated because they are valuable. Rashid: Afghan farmers do not want to grow poppies; if they had something else that gave them an income, they would grow it. The tragedy is that in nine years, we haven’t nurtured agriculture. The investment in agriculture is finally coming. I agree with Samina that in Afghanistan, women will be empowered through work. Many women are teachers and nurses, and they are often the only breadwinner in the household. That completely changes the internal balance of society, and there is more respect for women. We don’t need feminist tracts—just get women into the work force. Schaffer: Two major Bangladeshi organizations that extend microcredit loans to women are in Afghanistan: the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and the Grameen Bank. Neumann: Agriculture is important, but you have to understand the time required. Crop substitution requires creation of a value chain. Farmers can grow vegetables, but a customer like a big hotel, for instance, requires reliability and consistency. That gets you into areas like cold storage and packing. We know there are structures for gas and oil, but in order to be commercially viable, the Afghan government has to set up a transparent bidding structure that attracts foreigners. We know there are jewels—lapis, emeralds—that have been mined for centuries. What’s needed now are roads all over the country and cheap power. We have to do more, and there will be a time lag.
Q:Is it realistic to anticipate a surge in the funds needed to move Afghanistan forward?
Schaffer: We’ve talked about the potential elements in that surge. But it’s about security in the first order. Burns: One thing our government can do is urge European countries, if they won’t go into combat, to contribute more—billions more—to the economic side of the equation. Goodson: Usually, there are lots of pledges, but they don’t get paid. All that is part of the political realities and the ticking clock of public disinterest. I would echo Ahmed that the way Western aid is structured leads to the perception that the aid is just lining someone’s pockets. So my answer to the question would be no.
Q:How long does the US/NATO have to stay in Afghanistan to make it a victory?
Pillar: That’s an excellent question because it is one that never gets answered, in terms of dollars or lives. All the best estimates suggest that given the magnitude of the task, for anything we could call victory, we are talking double digits in years. But we are not talking about that in terms of the tolerance of the American public. Burns: For historical comparison, we are still in Germany and Japan, Korea, Bosnia and Kosovo long after those wars have ended. These things take time to finish the difficult challenges. Schaffer: But in none of those places is a war going on. At some point our presence becomes peaceful and the input is primarily economic. The character of our presence is very different.
Q:How will our nuclear agreement with India, relative to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), be a factor in our negotiations with Pakistan and Iran?
Burns: I was the negotiator for that agreement. The US sanctioned India for 35 years because they developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT. The sanctions did not work. Bush and Rice faced that, and decided to bring India into the nonproliferation system. The deal was that we would remove the sanctions, and in return India would submit to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. Not only did we bring a large country into the system; we also sent a message to Iran and North Korea that a country that plays by the rules and safeguards its nuclear material will be rewarded. I think it was a good deal for the US and for the world. Schaffer: Today, nuclear leakage to dangerous recipients is far more important than it was at the time of the NPT. Pakistan deeply resents the deal with India, but we are not likely to offer any similar deal to Pakistan, because Pakistan has been providing nuclear know-how to the some of the most dangerous people in the world. Burns: There could never be such a deal with Pakistan, until Pakistan becomes a more responsible country about its nuclear technology. Their sale of nuclear technology on the black market did enormous damage. But India is now a strategic partner, and that will be important to us in maintaining a balance of power with China over the next 50 years—another consideration we had very much in mind during the negotiations.
Q:Would the panel develop the religious issues underpinning the conflict?
Rashid: Essentially there has been a perversion in understanding Islam. The al Quaeda concept of global jihad, the elevation of jihad above all other Islamic precepts, is a very extreme interpretation of Islam. And suicide bombing is anathema to Islam. The Taliban, on the other hand, does not believe in global jihad; their jihad is very specific to liberate Afghanistan. They have “imported” suicide bombing as a tactic. There’s a big difference in religious terms between these two groups. Quraeshi: Religious illiteracy is an important thing here. Islam is a way of life that is very flexible. Indonesian practice is very different from Wahabi Arabian practice. But when believers are illiterate in their own religion, it allows others to collapse their understanding of it into a politicized form. Neumann: Religion and the violent extremist versions of it are not the primary motivators here, except for a small group. Afghan insurgents captured in a 2006 offensive gave as their three top reasons for joining the revolt: friction between tribes, friction between tribes and the government, and economic issues, with religion coming in a laggard fourth. Schaffer: In Afghanistan we’re dealing with a conservative society where the rule is to do what your father did. Thus, much of their local tradition comes to be described incorrectly as Islamic, largely on a selective basis. Pillar: Theology has relatively little to do with the violent behavior that concerns us the most. It has more to do with strategic considerations. Osama bin Laden’s stroke of genius—calling for jihad against the distant enemy, America—was strategic, not religious. In the ranks of international terrorists, there is not a wave of piety.
Q:Humanitarian NGOs have been critical of NATO’s using aid as a nonlethal weapon of war and thus blurring lines between humanitarian aid and military-led activities driven by political motives. What are your thoughts on this?
Goodson: There are no good guidelines for providing aid during a conflict. So the military has had to be the default provider. The concern is a reasonable one, but the practice is not likely to change anytime soon. Azoy: I’m a big fan of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), military teams in a province to act as military safeguards and civil reconstruction teams. They do wonderful work for the most part and are well-funded and well-equipped. They can accomplish more than less well-funded NGOs. I suspect that some NGO staff may feel that the PRTs are encroaching on what they do. Neumann: The PRTs do good work but there are blurred lines. The problem had three aspects. First there’s the military doing reconstruction in situations where no one else can. Then you find cases where the military is doing things that civilians could do. Finally there’s the case where the military is doing things that it doesn’t do very well, but this is often because the military has the funding for the job. One needs to be realistic.